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Armstrong 2010 spring

Lance Armstrong discusses Contador rivalry after Murcia disappointment Lance Armstrong discusses Contador rivalry after Murcia disappointment
By Ben Atkins @ 12:21 PM 

Lance Armstrong - RadioShackFollowing his first European race at the Vuelta a Murcia, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has been re-evaluating his season’s progress. His performance in Murcia, particularly the individual time trial, was to be used as an indicator of how well his preparation for this year’s Tour was going. In an interview with El Pais, Armstrong evaluated his chances, especially those against the race’s big favourite Alberto Contador.

While acknowledging that his former Astana teammate will likely have the advantage come July, the American couldn’t resist taking aim at the Spaniard as the mind games in the build up to this year’s Tour continue.

“First of all, it will be difficult,” said Armstrong on his overall chances of beating Contador. “I am 38 years old. Alberto is 27 and gets better every year. I can see, people can see, Alberto can see... The answer is not in my favour...”

But, he surmises, there are a lot of kilometres between the prologue in Rotterdam and the finish in Paris, where anything can happen. “No one has a trophy from the start,” he said. “It's going to be a race and we’ll see who is best.”

Not unhappy in third, despite appearances

On the subject of last year’s Tour podium, where pictures appear to show Armstrong less than happy with his third place behind his young teammate, the American’s answer is simple: “There was no excitement,” he explained. “My memory of that third – from every podium – is of relief, feeling grateful that it's all over and feeling like going home. Three weeks of being so overwhelmed, with so much pressure... Alberto was the best rider in the Tour and for me it was logical and honourable he was in the top. I was not jealous, angry, bitter.... Not at all; he was the best.”

But would he feel disappointed or frustrated if he is not able to match or better that result this time? “I’ll only feel frustrated if it’s down to my error,” is his answer. “If I am at my the best for age 38, do not make mistakes, do not suffer crashes, not get sick or peak at the wrong time.

“If I don’t have bad luck and can do my best, I’ll have no regrets.”

Not in the mountains, not in the time trials, then where?

On the evidence of the 2009 race, Contador is seemingly superior in both the mountains and the time trials; both traditionally Armstrong’s domains. This being the case, Armstrong and the RadioShack team will have to look for gains in other areas; stage 3 with its 13.2km of cobbles being an obvious place.

“That’s what Cycling is all about,” he said, “and many times we have taken very good decisions in that regard. Remember my first Tour: the Passage du Gois and Zülle? If he hadn’t fallen and lost seven minutes it would have been a completely different Tour. It was the first Tour [that I won], which means that other Tours were different. Tactically, one must be very intelligent.”

Still no 'I' in team, and careful of the team around you

Armstrong was unwilling to comment directly on the subject of last year’s apparent internal friction in the Astana team, but couldn’t resist a small dig at his former teammate and the people around him. “It is better not to comment. As I said before, this is a team sport,” he said, harking back to his infamous ‘no I in team’ tweet. “And I always think that will be judged by your peers. You're the boss, you have the yellow jersey, you're on top of the podium, have millions of dollars... And they have nothing. The most honourable thing, then, is to respect them. If not, you have nothing. I have always done that with my team: give them more than money: respect... We have to be a family. And it's not a criticism of Alberto. It is how I believe things should be done.”

Armstrong compared his younger Spanish teammate to himself. With regards to the apparent friction between the two of them though, the American sees much of the problem with the advice that Contador is being given.

“Alberto is a nervous person,” he said, “which is not bad. I am too. We always think we have to do more, work harder, be better. All the great champions are like that; everyone has a little bit of insecurity in life and have to compensate. I said nervous, but that is not meant as something negative.

“And the rest I do not think is from Alberto,” he continued, “but the people around him. If you ask anyone else who has been in contact with that group. It is the first time that I say this: be careful with his entourage.

“But anyway, I had fun during the Tour.

Yes men need to say 'no' sometimes

“Again I warn. I will make a general statement, not specifically addressed to Alberto and his men. The role and responsibility of those people is to say ‘yes’ many times, but when the time comes to say ‘no’, they must learn to say it and that person has to listen to the ‘no’. A lot of people say ‘yes’ to me about everything...”

Despite getting a lot of ‘yeses’, Armstrong still knows how to take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes from a trusted source. “Johan [Bruyneel, Armstrong’s long standing director sportif] says ‘yes’ all the time,” he said, “all the time, but sometimes says ‘Lance, no’. And I say ‘OK’ and I feel better afterwards. When the person you trusted to build your career says ‘no’, after many 'ifs', the only answer is ‘no.’”

Contador will nevertheless be the number one rider at this year’s Tour, and will only get better as he matures, says Armstrong.

“Alberto is not stupid,” he said. “He is an intelligent person. He continues to grow and gain experience in everything.”

Despite the apparent respect that the seven-time Tour winner has for his twice-winning rival, it is unlikely that the two of them will sit down to talk between now and the Tour prologue on July 3rd.

“It is not necessary,” he said.